“The first thing that happens is less stress, anxiety, and reactiveness,” says Martha Soffer, an ayurvedic healer and founder of Surya Spa in Pacific Palisades, of the benefits of vipassana meditation. “That leads to better health, better sleep, and a better life.” (You had us at less stress.) Vipassana also focuses on the way we operate, which creates an awareness that helps us manage the world around us. “You’ll find yourself with clearer thought, more powerful thought, a calmer more responsive mind, and simultaneously, a more awake and energized mind,” Soffer continues. And all you need is your breath. So what is vipassana exactly, and how does it differ from other kinds of meditation? To find out, we interviewed Soffer and Heather Prete, a teacher at DEN Meditation.
Keep scrolling to learn more about the ancient self-observation method of meditation.
WHAT IS VIPASSANA MEDITATION?
The term vipassana translates to “insight into the true nature of reality,” explains Soffer. “Vipassana trains us to be mindful of our own processes and to culture a state of open awareness, where we’re able to deal with the stresses, or life, by responding, instead of instinctively reacting.”
HOW IS VIPASSANA MEDITATION DONE?
“Vipassana uses a technique where we follow the breath, and in so doing, become aware of everything that rises and falls in us, emotionally, mentally, and even the sensations in our body,” says Soffer. “Most importantly, we become aware of the impermanence of all that, until what’s permanent—our very own nature—becomes apparent.”
WHO PRACTICES VIPASSANA MEDITATION?
So who practices it? “[Everyone] from Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka and Myanmar and India to businesspeople on Wall Street,” shares Soffer. “No system of belief is required, other than a little faith in the practice itself.”
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MEDITATION?
“Meditation gives us a chance to recuperate from the normal issues and pressures of life and to broaden our perspective on those issues and pressures. According to ancient Ayurvedic texts, meditation was not only a tool in the pursuit of enlightenment, but it was known to be extraordinarily beneficial for our psychical health as well.”
“Today that knowledge has come back to the forefront, as Western medicine embraces this oldest of disciplines, recognizing benefits such as lowering cortisol, stress, blood pressure, incident of heart attack and stroke, as well as generating the physiological phenomenon known as ‘reversal of aging,’ with the associated benefits of improved memory and learning ability, better cardiovascular health, clearer thinking, improved quality of sleep, and in general, the establishment of a brighter and more positive state of mind.”
HOW IS VIPASSANA DIFFERENT THAN OTHER KINDS OF MEDITATION?
Soffer shares that there are many forms of good meditation. She explains that zen offers clarity. Here, intellect is confronted with its limitations and transcended. Transcendental Meditation uses a unique mantra that helps the mind settle to a state of finest thought and then transcend that thought. In Bhakti meditation, the small self is lost in love for the larger self and becomes the larger self. And finally, she says that vipassana, or mindfulness, trains us to be mindful of our own processes.
WHAT ARE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS OF MEDiTATION?
“People mistake mindfulness with remembering to pick up their socks or making good food choices,” says Prete. “Although these actions may indeed be a side effect of practicing mindfulness, they are not the practice itself.”
“Another misconception is that thoughts are supposed to disappear during mindfulness practice,” she shares. “Again, this may be a side effect, but we don’t try to get rid of thoughts, we rather learn how not to be ruled by them and how to relate to them differently.”
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU MEDITATE?
Prete says every day would be great. “Mindfulness is dependent on the dose, so it isn’t so much that there is a right number of hours to practice in a week, it’s more about aligning our practice with our desire to develop the qualities that arise through the practice.”
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET GOOD AT MEDITATING?
“It doesn’t take long,” shares Prete. “Just beginning the process is turning toward well-being, and that’s pretty good.”
WHERE ARE SOME PLACES YOU CAN LEARN AND PRACTICE VIPASSANA?
Soffer, who practices Transcendental Meditation at Surya Spa, recommends Insight LA for vipassana. “Surya Spa has a wonderful combination of multiple locations, robust schedules, fascinating speakers, and super-approachable programs for both newcomers and the experienced,” she says. She also shares that Theravada Buddhist temples are everywhere.